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Importance of Master's in physics

  1. Mar 28, 2007 #1

    What job opportunites would become available to someone with a master's degree in physics vs. those with only a bachelors in physics? This is important because I am trying to decide on an undergraduate program in physics, and one of the two might look better to grad schools, but is much more expensive.

  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 28, 2007 #2
    From what I've heard, the conventional wisdom is that a bachelor's degree in physics is pretty worthless if you're looking for a physics job. A BS will make you eligible to apply for positions as an analyst, a programmer (if you've taken more than the bare minimum programming requirement for physics), technology-related jobs, and basically any other job that requires only a BS is any science/technology field. You can also teach physics in high school, if you got your teaching certification while doing your undergrad.

    From what I've been told by physics masters students, an MS can get you a position as a physicist in industry, or perhaps a research position at a national lab. You can teach high school physics, though you'll get paid more than someone with a mere BS. One thing you can do with an MS (that you can't do with a BS) is teach physics at a community college. Back when I was in high school, I took physics at a community college, and our teacher mentioned that she had an MS in physics. She was quite good at physics too, so it's not as if MS physics teachers have diminished teaching ability with respect to PhDs. My understanding is that the difference between an MS and a PhD is that if PhDs go into industry, they'll get paid more, and possibly have higher level jobs. Also PhDs can be university professors, whereas MS graduates usually can't.

    Anyway, that's my unqualified understanding of the situation. But seeing as how I don't have an MS, and likely never will, since I'm going straight for a PhD, I can't say anything for certain. What I can say based on some personal experience is that it really doesn't matter which school you go to for your BS. Graduate schools don't care about the name. As long as the program isn't substandard, and long as you go to an accredited school (i.e. not Bob Jones University, or something crazy like that), it really makes no difference where you did your undergraduate. What matters is that you get good grades in your physics courses, especially in the second two years, and that you get some research experience. The school you go to only matters insofar as there are ample research opportunities for you.
  4. Mar 28, 2007 #3
    As far as I have come to know, mainly form reading this forum, Masters in Physics are far less common, most schools would prefer their students continue on to get a PHD, however some do provide the option to end with a masters

    As for the BS being worthless.... I think thats BS (pun intended); check this http://www.aip.org/statistics/trends/states/state.htm
    and this
    Last edited: Mar 28, 2007
  5. Mar 29, 2007 #4


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    Why would a degree higher than Bachelor's but lower than PHd not be preferable by some schools? (I might assume that such schools are in the PHd granting business and want students to progress more, not less).
  6. Mar 29, 2007 #5
    I don't know why the degree-granting institution would prefer that their students get a PhD (perhaps they want more cheap labor from grad students?). But with some employers, it's preferable to come in with a bachelor's. I've heard that if you teach at a public school, they're required to pay you more if you have an MS. So to save money, they'd prefer to hire a BS over an MS. As such, many teachers come in with a BS, and then go to grad school to get their MS after the school district employs them. It might work the same way with other employers too, for all I know.
  7. Mar 29, 2007 #6


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    Most schools don't offer (or at least don't encourage) an MS in physics because there's no point to it. If you're going to be a physicist, you need a Ph.D. If you're not going to be a physicist, why would you go to physics grad school? I guess you might want a higher salary as a future teacher, but higher-end universities don't cater to that kind of person. Their intention is to train you for a research career.
  8. Mar 29, 2007 #7
    I am 32 years old, and it's not the right time in my life to get a phD anymore. I discovered my analytical abilities too late in life. I think there is a point to getting a master's in physics in that I would have a deeper understanding of the subject. I could always go back for my PhD in the future. I was wondering about job opportunities for physics masters. Is there a market for them? Could I get a better job in a tech field with a masters vs a bachelors?
    Last edited: Mar 29, 2007
  9. Mar 30, 2007 #8
    Masters is a more comprehensive degree than a BS. It seems to be mostly common sense to me.. it´s standard interview material - the person with the better qualification and more experience - assuming all else equal will come out on top. That´s not to say that the BS is worthless, or indeed that you´d find it difficult finding a physics field job with a BS.

    In fact, most industrial positions i´ve come across are happy with a BS - reason being that the chances of you covering something even related to the job in the extra year on a masters are slim, as long as you get a good grade on the BS you´re proving that you´re capable of handling the material and working as a physicist. I must say that i´ve also came across several industrial employers that barely knew the difference between BS and Masters.

    I´d say the Masters perhaps has the most significant influence when applying for a phd programme since the Masters extension generally requires a year of introductory research projects.
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